Strictly's Arlene Phillips dream show
Straight-talking Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Phillips has fulfilled a long-held dream by choreographing the moves for the star-studded Flashdance - the Musical, which opens at Norwich Theatre Royal on March 30. She tells us about her admiration for Norfolk's ballroom dancing doyenne Peggy Spencer, and why time at home is so precious to her.
Straight-talking Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Phillips has fulfilled a long-held dream by choreographing the moves for the star-studded Flashdance - the Musical, which opens at Norwich Theatre Royal on March 30. She tells EMMA LEE about her admiration for Norfolk's ballroom dancing doyenne Peggy Spencer, and why time at home is so precious to her.
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'Take your passion - and make it happen'. That's the motto of Flashdance - the Musical, which opens at Norwich Theatre Royal on March 30. But it could also be applied to its choreographer, straight-talking Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Phillips.
Her passion, from a very early age, was dance. And she made it happen - becoming a household name - through hard work and determination.
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The energetic show, which stars Bernie Nolan, Bruno Langley and Noel Sullivan, is based on the classic 80s movie of the same name.
Grabbing a quick chat between rehearsals, Arlene explains that creating the moves for Flashdance was a long-held ambition for her.
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'Originally I was one of the choreographers that was interviewed to create the choreography for the film. I got down to the last two, but didn't get it,' she says.
'When [theatre impresario] David Ian was producing the musical, he got in touch with me and asked me if I would be interested in choreographing it. What excited me about the project was the fact that it was going to use some of the original music from the film and some new music. There's lots of dance in it. Not many musicals today have a lot of dance in them - it's more like choreographing staging and movement. But I think there's more dance in the musical than there was in the original film,' she says.
The show, which is directed by Kenny Leon, features an iconic score, including the smash hit Maniac, along with Gloria and the Academy Award winning title track Flashdance - What a Feeling, as well as 10 original songs created for the musical.
Set in Pittsburgh, it tells the story of 18 year old Alex, a welder by day and 'flashdancer' by night, whose dream is to win a place at the prestigious Shipley Dance Academy.
Arlene, a very glamorous 63, certainly empathises with the central character's ambition.
'Dance has always been the love of my life. As far back as I can remember I was one of those kids who loved to dance,' she says. 'I've been told that as soon as music came on I would be dancing.'
Arlene grew up in Manchester, training at the Muriel Tweedy School of Dance, and always knew that she had found her calling. She initially wanted to be a ballet dancer, but decided she would have to teach because her physique wasn't the perfect balletic shape. However, when she moved to the bright lights of London, she fell in love with a new style of dance - American jazz.
That was in the 1970s, and as well as trying to forge a dance career, she did a variety of jobs to make ends meet. One of them was to lead to a lucky break. She was house-sitting for a director, who needed a choreographer for a commercial. The man in question was Ridley Scott and that gig, a small ad for Lyons Maid ice cream, led to big things.
Arlene's burning ambition was to start her own dance group.
'I wanted to put together the very best students in my class to form a new, edgy dance group. Much of the dance on TV was quite 'smiley' and I wanted to do something different - I wanted to create something that was hipper, really.
The act was called Hot Gossip - and included Sarah Brightman - and another lucky break turned them into a household name, not to mention setting temperatures soaring. Suddenly they were in the tabloids and in the pop charts.
'When I was trying to get them off the ground, we worked in clubs like Monkberry's, which was a cool place to go at that time. We were spotted by the producer of the Kenny Everett Video Show - he saw a photo of the group and liked it. Once we had appeared on there it all took off,' she says. In particular, TV clean-up campaigner Mary Whitehouse had plenty to say about their risqu� routines.
'It appeared to be an overnight success, but we'd been working together for a long time. Kenny was absolutely brilliant - a comic genius,' she says, fondly.
Her work with Hot Gossip brought her to the attention of Andrew Lloyd Webber, who asked her to choreograph his musical-on-wheels Starlight Express. It was an instant sensation when it opened at the Apollo Victoria Theatre in London in March 1984. During its 18-year West End run it was seen by an amazing eight million people and took �140m.
Arlene's other theatre credits include Grease, Saturday Night Fever and We Will Rock You, which is based on the music of Queen.
She's worked with film legends such as Clint Eastwood and Terry Jones, as well as some of the biggest names in the music business, including Whitney Houston, the Bee Gees, Elton John, George Michael, Tina Turner and Robbie Williams.
Arlene's schedule makes you tired just listening to it. So it's no surprise that time at home - she has two daughters - is precious to her.
'I've just finished the Strictly live tour, then we're working on Flashdance to bring it into the West End. We Will Rock You is going on tour and the Sound of Music is going on tour, so there's no break.
'I find time and I find ways to relax. Being with my family, spending time with them is utterly relaxing - a change away from the dancing. Being at home is a pleasure for me,' she says.
While millions of people have seen Arlene's work in shows, films and pop videos, her role as a judge panel of the BBC's massively successful Saturday night show Strictly Come Dancing has turned her into a household name.
'When I go on TV for Strictly I'm as demanding as I always am. I've worked with dozens and dozens of celebrities on videos and I'm just as demanding with them. If you are going to do something work your hardest and do it to the best of your ability,' she says.
What would Arlene say her career highlights are? She's certainly spoiled for choice.
'Obviously Starlight Express because that was the first musical I did. The relationship with Andrew Lloyd Webber is very special to me. Saturday Night Fever was the first show I directed and choreographed. Hot Gossip with Kenny. There are so many moments…'
Arlene also expresses a great admiration for Norfolk's award-winning ballroom dancing doyenne Peggy Spencer, who appeared on Come Dancing for half a century and still teaches a few classes a week at the age of 88.
'She's amazing,' Arlene says. 'She was very responsible for the popularity of ballroom and the start of opening up disco to everyone. Remarkable.'
Finally, returning to Flashdance, what did she make of comedian Robert Webb's interpretation of the iconic audition scene from the movie - complete with leotard and legwarmers - on Let's Dance for Comic Relief?
'I think he's fantastic - he's obviously trained at drama school or whatever - there's just no way he could have been as good as that,' she says. Seems your secret's out, Webb.
t Flashdance - the Musical is at Norwich Theatre Royal from March 30 to April 2 at 7.30pm, and April 3 and 4 at 5pm and 8.30pm. Tickets cost from �6 to �30.50. Box Office: 01603 630000 or book online at www. theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk
t The final of Let's Dance for Comic Relief is on BBC One tomorrow.